3. As I was walking on my to 5th & O I stumbled across one of the family owned mom and pop restaurants by the name of Half Smoke. After walking around and researching 5th & O I had gone over there for lunch. It seemed like new restaurants that had just opened, when I walked in there were a few customers and the general manager was sitting at the bar and helped me navigate what to order from the menu. As I ordered I asked him a couple of questions about the restaurants itself and the Shaw area “make over” over the past couple of years. It so happened that the general manager and the owner of Half Smoke who I later found out were named Andre McCain had opened the as he states “casual sausage joint” back in October. The manager stated that McCain wanted to have at least one black owned business around an area that was having this gentrification makeover. He wanted to have a commonplace for folks of all ages to come and enjoy themselves and not worry what is going on in the neighborhood that surrounds them which I found very noble of him to do.
2.Despite all the new mom and pop businesses, there are still corner stores that remain in their place since opening up in the 1980s. One of the customers that I spoke to from the Liquor stated that that particular liquor was there since the late 70s. Though the store hasn’t gone anywhere, everything else around them seems to be changing. As I walked in, it was just any liquor store housing hundreds of bottles all across the wall. There was a sweet older man who I am assuming was the owner of the store asked me to not take any picture but I happened to find pictures on google. As I interviewed the old man he states that he has been working here for more than 35 years. He states that inside of the liquor store nothing has changed but the people that come in buy and what they buy, had changed severely. He states that the family that he has seen grow up and has their own kids are no longer there because they can no longer afford to be here.
While walking around 5th & O for the first time something that struck me was the cooperative home complex that was tucked away all the way at the end of 5th street. As I walked past it, it automatically seemed out of place from all the beautiful newly constructed homes that surrounded it. From research essentially “Second Northwest Cooperative Homes” are part of the Section 8 Housing programs around the nation. The overall idea of co-op homes in D.C as advertise by several articles online is residents own a share of the entire property not just their unit, which entitles the resident to own a share of the unit. The “head” of the co-op homes has a board of directors and a management company, which maintains the property, screens new residents, and determines monthly fees among other charges. There are at least 120 co-ops in the DC however this type of affordable housing is not well known or advertised. As I did research, I saw that the prices ranged from 1, 500 for a studio apartment to around 4, 500 for a 4 bedroom co-op apartment.
What that I found interesting is that 5th & O have an “Adopt-A-Block” sponsorship. A strategy that in the 1990s would have never been thought of as the people living there at the time. Back then, making sure that the block stayed clean and green was the not the first priority for the neighborhood. What could have been important is making sure the 5th and 7th crew stood out of each other’s way, drugs were being sold, and strawberries were being picked up from the way Castaneda explained Shaw during that time. Especially with Baldie just two streets over what was important to the notorious “neighborhood leader” was not having the blocks like 5th & O adopted by the Minor Football League to enforce cleanliness.
Despite all the new mom and pop businesses, there are still corner stores that remain in their place since opening up in the 1980s. One of the customers that I spoke to from the Liquor stated that that particular liquor was there since the late 70s. Though the store hasn’t gone anywhere, everything else around them seems to be changing. As I talked to the man who I didn’t get a name from there was construction happening behind the corner store building for new luxury apartments. It seemed to me the more young professionals and families looking to not be in the rustle and bustle of downtown come to live in Shaw, the less natives of Shaw that were once labeled as “gang members” there are. The more apartments and new restaurants being built, the less able natives of Shaw like that man I talked to outside the liquor store are able to afford living there.
Another kind of house that I saw that does not fit the criteria listed in the previous post was cooperative homes. As I was walking farther down 5th street I found a cooperative homes complex. After researching what cooperative housing was I discovered that the purpose of these homes is to give families the ability to own their homes and set a leasing agreement signed by the family and the company that owns the home. This way they are able to afford to own their own space without the threat of eviction. This cooperative home was just a couple of feet down the street from the same black and brick luxury row homes. The people that lived in the cooperative homes looked very different from the those living in the newly renovated row homes surrounding it. As I stood there observing the street I saw little kids coming out of the cooperative housing complex playing among themselves and not even 15 feet away little kids whose parents/guardians owned the renovated homes playing among themselves as well – not acknowledging each other whatsoever.
When I finally got to the 5th & O intersection I saw three types of houses. Houses that have been there for decades, that had little to no renovations to them, the ones that were under construction to become renovated, or luxurious homes such as the one attached here. After doing more research, I discovered that a house like this would go for about 1.5 million dollars because of this renovation. It is very ironic that not even 10 years ago in 2007, people were being killed, and there was gang tension between 5th & O and 7th & O crews. But now, row homes go up to the millions and more of them are being constructed.
Walking the main street on my way to 5th & O I saw a bunch of small owned businesses mostly restaurants with a bunch of young professionals or couples with young children eating brunch. Most of these individuals were caucasian with a few of Hispanic and black among other minority groups sitting in the same area as them enjoying their early Saturday afternoon. Though there was music in the cars passing, it was quiet and peaceful walking around the area. As I made my way to 5th and O almost every other car would stop and wave to the person walking the sidewalk – a gesture that represented a sort of acquaintance or friendship between those groups of people. Something I realized with those interactions with the people in the car and those walking greeting each other was that they were mostly African American individuals. Though 5th & O (as I later found out) is now filled with newly renovated apartments and row homes the group of individuals that continued to live after such changes, were friendly and had a sort of family-based community.
In his book S Street Rising Ruben Castaneda described 5th & O Streets Northwest in Shaw as a “combat zone” an area whose reputation involved a murder, drugs and little to no press attention on the intersecting streets. As I continued to do research, googling 5th & O I discovered articles that were written a decade or so after Castaneda’s stories in the book, that played the same tune. In article Warring Gangs in District’s Shaw Neighborhood Declare Truce and similarly in Truce and Consequences authors Johnson and Samuelson describe 5th & O as gang filled, murdering spree atmosphere that was finally in the midst of trying to find newfound peace in the area after too many lives lost in the streets.
After such narratives and ideologies being written about the Shaw area, I decided to visit 5th & O to see if these same stories would fit what 5th and O is now. When I got here I was presented the opposite, the first word that comes to me to describe Shaw is – Gentrified. Here are some of the things that I observed…